Friday, December 6, 2013

"Thank You, Wendy"

Recently, regular reader Wendy M. Grossman noticed a mistake I made concerning what she called a “data point” from a movie I was writing about called All That Jazz.  This post is a sincere and public “Thank-You Note” to Wendy for that astute and accurate observation.

I try hard to get things right.  But I am not always successful.  In this case, just like there’s a word you think you know how to spell so you don’t look it up in the dictionary and you write it wrong, I thought I knew what I was talking about in this case so I didn’t double-check and I, consequently, wrote it wrong. 

The point of that post, entitled “We Have Liftoff”, centered on a reminder (to myself, as well as anyone else interested) to go further (and dig deeper) when executing one’s imaginatorial efforts.  To demonstrate what I was talking about, I used, as an example, a sequence from All That Jazz in which the film’s lead character, Joe Gideon (stand-in for the film’s director and co-writer Bob Fosse) elevated a creative assignment from the acceptable to the sublime.

That part happened, that wasn’t my mistake.  (Or an hallucination.  I have been known to imagine things that aren’t there, unofficially rewriting what I am looking at “on the fly.”)  My mistake involved describing the creative assignment as a commercial for an airline rather than what it in fact was, which was a proposed dance number for a Broadway musical.

It may be (and I am hoping it is) instructional (to myself as well as to anyone else interested) to examine why I got this “data point” wrong.  Primarily, it has to do with certain reflexive connections that I made in my head generated by my personal experience. 

That’s the way memory works, as least for me.  I remember something a certain way, and once it gets fixed in my head, that is forever the way it is. 

Until somebody corrects me. 

My mistake, I believe, was instigated by the fact that the originally-presented serviceable version of the dance number (accompanied by some chorus-sung cheesy, jingle-sounding lyrics) felt like a television airline commercial. 

This misperception was then reinforced by the fact that, during the time All That Jazz was released, 1979, I was toiling in a television environment in which network censorship was frustratingly oppressive.  So when Joe Gideon presented his alternative version of the choreography, involving suggestive gyrations and female toplessness, my TV-trained brain the immediately computed the shocked and dumbfounded responses of the onlookers, generating the conclusions that their hostile reactions were the consequence of “You can’t do that on television.”  (Rather than on Broadway, where a decade earlier actors had appeared onstage naked in Hair.)

My factual error, it would appear, was a byproduct of my conditioning.  Still, I regret making it, and I apologize for having done so.  But here’s what I regret even more.

Disconnected from Wendy’s observation, other than by time, the evening I received her correcting comment, I returned to an already scheduled but as yet unpublished post, to rework some miniscule phrasing, after my mind, in its spare time, came up with an improvement. 

In the process, however, I found myself rewriting the entire paragraph!

Do you see what I am telling you here?  It is one thing to make a factual error.  That is admittedly unacceptable.  But even more unacceptable is writing what I believed to be the best I could deliver, only to discover that it was in serious need of radical improvement.

There is only one word to describe that.


When I worked on half-hour comedies recorded in front of a live studio audience, such as Taxi, Cheers and The Cosby Show, there were ample opportunities to, first, hear the script read at the “table readings”, and later to see it performed “on its feet” during runthroughs, for the shows’ writers to determine what was working and what was not.  And then we’d fix what was not.  This process proceeded continually, to the point where we were still rewriting jokes that didn’t work on the stage during the filming itself, so that the following “take” would include a replacement joke that we hoped would work better.

(By the way, in mine ‘umble opinion, this is the reason that “single-camera” sitcoms not filmed in front of a live audience are not as funny.  For the most part, the material is not heavily tested; it is generally simply written and then filmed.)

For me, Wendy M. Grossman’s comment served not as a criticism but as a “Wake-up Call.” 

I write these posts.  I rework them and rework them until I believe they are as good as I can possibly make them.  Then I schedule them for publication, and, except for rare exceptions, I leave them alone.

Lacking the outsider feedback that was so helpful in television, it appears that here, I may have to just train myself not be so easily satisfied with what I have written and apply myself more diligently in the future.

I am committed to doing that.  And I appreciate the person who provided the incentivizing message that I should.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

My, uh, pleasure. :)

I've wondered a few times what needs to happen to get you more people making comments. I suspect acknowledgements (not necessarily as spectacular as this one) and responses would help. I think the Friday questions thing Ken Levine does has been very good for the activity on his blog in that regard - though it's not really your style.